Monday, May 20

The spectre of street shootings


STREET shootings. Mafia-style shootings. Gunshots fired at premises.

It appears some of our towns are like cowboy towns, teeming with miscreants, racketeers and thugs. The apparent ease with which these criminal elements are able to access weapons to do their killings is unnerving. It’s one alarming scenario, to say the least.

Lately, an activist-cum-politician was gunned down in broad daylight. The fatal shooting of Bill Kayong in the open not only sent chills down the spine of the public, it has caused an outbursts of rage and anger among the community.

The victim was a strong advocate of Native Customary Rights (NCR) land issues as well as the Miri branch secretary of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and personal assistant to Miri MP Dr Michael Teo.

He was killed in a drive-by shooting at a traffic light intersection in front of E-Mart commercial centre in Miri at about 8.30am on Tuesday.

Less talked about but equally heinous was another shooting of a Balai Ringin man on the same day. The victim was travelling by lorry from Serian to Kampung Jugan in Bau to purchase black pepper when he was shot in the head. He died the next day in the Sarawak General Hospital without regaining consciousness.

Although Bill Kayong’s killing has been classified as high-profile by virtue of his elevated standing in society, both he and the unnamed man from Balai Ringin died at the hands of assassins and it makes no distinction between social status. They were victims of cold-blooded murder, ruthlessly taken before their time. They were also somebody’s sons, fathers, husbands, friends and siblings.

Sarawakians, still reeling from the twin tragedy, have every reason to ask: should we feel safe walking in the street or driving on the road?

For the record, the Resort City of Miri had seen a spate of street shootings in recent years.

In July 2012, Richard Ma, 48, who was involved in the entertainment business, was shot twice at pointblank at a traffic light junction at Jalan Bendahara, Miri. He died of his gunshot wounds.

In less than a year, another Miri businessman, known as Lim, who ran several pubs and reflexology outlets at Jalan Merbau, was injured in an attempted murder.

He was shot in his vehicle by an unidentified assailant around 5pm at the traffic light near Miri Polyclinic and a petrol station. A motorcyclist reportedly pulled up on the driver’s side and fired three shots before fleeing.

Similar cases have occurred elsewhere in the state.

In Sibu, the frequent mafia-style shootings have raised grave concern over public security. The gunning down of a businessman, Lau Leh Hing, is but one example in a series of street shootings in Sibu.

The state capital is not immune. A Kuching businessman, Ang Seng Hoon, suffered the same fate.

Furthermore, in February last year, an Indonesian man in Niah was shot dead over a land dispute.

Amidst public angst over such shootings, we have been assured by the former state police chief that there are no gunmen on the loose in Sarawak as the shootings that occurred in public places involved specific targets.

We have also been advised not to panic since the shootings were not like the random mass attacks – such as the ‘Batman Shootings’ – in the US.

“The public should not have any worries because as we can see, the gunmen did not shoot randomly at people in the streets. These shooters were very specific, very focused – they knew their targets,” said Datuk Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani, the then-state police commissioner.

In light of the flurry of public shootings, the pertinent question to ask is how many of these cases have been solved? Perhaps, the authorities could enlighten the public!

Asking the public not to speculate about such incidents has seemingly become a norm. After each street shooting, the public is assured that a special task force will be formed to track down the killers but even then, there are hardly any indications from the authorities as to the outcome the manhunt. No wonder, people start to speculate.

A forensic crime scene investigation (CSI) team from Bukit Aman arrived in Miri yesterday to assist the special task force formed to investigate the murder of Bill Kayong.

State CID chief SAC Dev Kumar, who heads the special task force, said: “We are investigating all possible angles. We are unable to divulge further details at the moment but the public can be rest assured we are giving this case the highest priority.”

According to him, so far, no one who may have witnessed the shooting, has come forward to shed some light on the suspect and the vehicle used.

If street shooting incidents can be so brazen, yet remain mostly unsolved, especially when all gun owners have to be registered to avoid the proliferation and misuse of firearms, then ordinary citizens can be exonerated for asking: “How safe is it to come forward to be a witness? What kind of protection do we get?”

When a WhatsApp message from an activist surfaced to openly suggest Bill Rayong had only one ‘enemy,’ and even audaciously pin-point who the enemy was, someone asked: “Dare The Borneo Post print his suggestion?”

It is not a question of ‘dare or dare not.’ Theoretically, journalistic standards and values are lofty such as accuracy, independence, integrity, free from bias and truth.

Austrian-born journalist and diplomat Henry Anatole Grunwal said: “Journalism can never be silent. That is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air.”

The identity of the ‘one enemy’ of Bill Rayong will come out in the open eventually – provided it’s the truth, not a mere suggestion or hearsay. As Elvis Presley rightly said: “Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.”

State PKR chairman Baru Bian has suggested Bill Kayong’s active involvement in defending NCR land issues might have led to his fatal shooting.

“We are extremely concerned at the level of violence that has crept into our society against politicians and social activists.

“To find the motive, the police must look at Bill’s activities as a member of PKR and Pedas (Persatuan Dayak Sarawak) that have been widely shared on social media and reported in the press,” he said, adding that “Bill’s death may be linked to these two facets of his life.”

Is this a strong hint?

We have no answer. But Bill Rayong’s colleagues, friends and fellow defenders of NCR land issues have started a Facebook page strongly urging “Justice for Bill Kayong.” It has garnered over 2,000 likes at the time of writing. The brutal shooting is also receiving international attention.

A timely call for the government to find ways to resolve NCR land disputes had also been made by Baru Bian following the reported violence in Melikin where a local resident, Surik Muntai, who had been fighting for his land rights, was viciously assaulted – and crippled – by gangsters in 2013.

In another incident in Bekelit last year, the Rumah Jambai chief was beaten and slashed with a samurai sword. His car and house were also torched.

Both cases were reported to happen in Miri.

After Bill Rayong’s tragic death, one NCR land activist and lawyer said: “It’s those small people in Bengoh

Range, the Penans in Baram, and the various small committees who appreciate the value of land in their life we are fighting for.”

Somewhat unconvinced, I probed the depth of his resolve: “Bill has been fighting for the Dayaks. But tell me, how many of the Dayaks are behind him?”

I was a bit abashed when he replied: “Bill is a nice young gentleman. But put him on the stage to talk about NCR, the Dayaks were all captivated. It is not important to Bill how many are behind him. Bill, and many others will still fight even if there is only soul behind them.”

Let the ethos of that solemn oath be my tribute to Bill Rayong.

Incidentally, Baru Bian gifted me with his book ‘The Long Awakening’ with a note dated 18.6.2016 which reads:

“Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never ending stream in our beloved state of Sarawak. – Amos 5:24”